"...I know not what treason is, if sapping and betraying the liberties of a people be not treason...." ~ Cato
Social Economics and Liberty
As a rebuttal to Adam Young's rebuttal to my article 'Capitalism and the State,' I'll begin by thanking Adam and the host of this site. I always enjoy a good debate, and I appreciate the work being done at Strike The Root. It is essential that we have a forum of ideas such as this, so anti-statists can come together to debate and discuss ideas on how to achieve a truly anarchistic society.
I agree whole-heartedly with Adam that economic liberty and social liberty really are one and the same, and to separate the two, much as the 'Nolan Chart' does, is absurdity at its worst. However, it is vitally important to understand the meaning and effects of the most important social institutions of economic production we experience today, and its effects upon the individual and society in formulating our definition of individual liberty.
Let us begin by asking a simple question: What is property? Some will claim that property is the natural right to the fruits of one's labor, but in fact, any thorough analysis of political economics will quickly debunk this claim. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, 'Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right.'
To understand why, let us re-examine Adam Smith (emphasis mine)
The produce of labour constitutes the natural recompence or wages of labour.
In that original state of things which precedes both the appropriation of land and the accumulation of stock, the whole produce of labour belongs to the labourer. He has neither landlord nor master to share with him.
As soon as land becomes private property, the landlord demands a share of almost all the produce which the labourer can either raise or collect from it. His rent makes the first deduction from the produce of the labour which is employed upon land.
What are the common wages of labour, depends everywhere upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little, as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower, the wages of labour.
It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily: and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit, their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work, but many against combining to raise it.
These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy till the moment of execution; and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people. Such combinations, however, are frequently resisted by a contrary defensive combination of the workmen, who sometimes, too, without any provocation of this kind, combine, of their own accord, to raise tile price of their labour. Their usual pretences are, sometimes the high price of provisions, sometimes the great profit which their masters make by their work. But whether their combinations be offensive or defensive, they are always abundantly heard of. In order to bring the point to a speedy decision, they have always recourse to the loudest clamour, and sometimes to the most shocking violence and outrage. They are desperate, and act with the folly and extravagance of desperate men, who must either starve, or frighten their masters into an immediate compliance with their demands. The masters, upon these occasions, are just as clamorous upon the other side, and never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combination of servants, labourers, and journeymen. The workmen, accordingly, very seldom derive any advantage from the violence of those tumultuous combinations, which, partly from the interposition of the civil magistrate, partly from the superior steadiness of the masters, partly from the necessity which the greater part of the workmen are under of submitting for the sake of present subsistence, generally end in nothing but the punishment or ruin of the ringleaders.
I think it is fair for us to agree that the state is not only a giant beast, but also a means of mind control, as the more the state can control our minds, the more it can control us. For those who may have read it, you'd know that Niccolo Machiavelli's infamous book The Prince demonstrates just how clearly the state must use deception to maintain its iron-clad control. But the state is not merely a purpose-less institution of force. It represents a set of rulers, people who benefit from its existence, deceptions, and police-power.
Allow me to quote Thomas Jefferson. 'I am convinced that those societies (such as the Native American peoples) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, & restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretence of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves & sheep. I do not exaggerate.'
So we must ask ourselves, just who it is that maintains the state? Perhaps this Adam Smith quote will shed some light on the matter: 'Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.' So the purpose of the state is not taxation, as Mr. Young believes. In fact, that is precisely what the state WANTS us to believe. Ever wondered why Bush promotes an 'ownership society' and Kerry made a point of describing himself 'not a redistribution Democrat' while proposing to lower corporate taxes to the Democratic Leadership Council first thing after he won the primaries? The root of statism is quite simple. It is none other than PRIVATE PROPERTY.
'Why this can't be possible! Property is the root of all liberty,' some might exclaim. Quite the contrary. Private property is a monopoly of violence initiated by one individual (or collective, or class) over a given piece of property. The creation of such a monopoly of force is necessarily the means by which capitalism is upheld.
Imagine for a second that you are a wealthy capitalist who owns large segments of the economy. Do you honestly believe that you will be able to maintain control of all your diverse factories and buildings without some sort of reactionary hierarchy to act as an iron fist with which you can impose your will upon all those underneath, to prevent them from using the machines and goods in any factory for their own ends?
And why wouldn't people do such a thing in the absence of such a police force? Mr. Young states, 'In order to experience his freedom, an individual must choose among the existing possibilities. He must weigh the subjective marginal costs of different actions and inactions.' So if I'm working in that factory, why should I bother listening to some pompous bourgeois individual trying to tell me that I have to do what he says or leave 'his' building? Answer: Because the police state says so.
Only a property-less society can be stateless. As wealth distribution becomes polarized, so does the degree of statism increase to maintain that separation. The modern 'welfare state' was not created despite capitalism, but in fact to save capitalism from itself! Regardless of what overbearing liberals and mindless Democrats might tell us, Franklin D. Roosevelt was no friend of the common folk. In fact, he used federal troops to crush numerous labor strikes and uprisings of militant unionism throughout the course of the Great Depression. He was a servant of big business, as the state always has been and always will be, so long as we live in a capitalist society such as ours.
What we have in the United States today, regulations aside, is not even close to a free-market in the sense that Smith talked about it. What we do have is a loosely-organized network of private corporate bureaucracies that manage the economy for the benefit of an elite class. Of course, it comes along with some oversight by the state to prevent the exploitation from getting out of hand to the point where the people might rise up and overthrow the system. But even so, this modern "free-market" is nothing more than a statist corporate scam.
And this leads into my final point. Right-wing libertarians and anarchists will say that our relationship with a corporation is voluntary, but our relationship to the government isn't. I disagree. It is no more or less difficult to move to the middle of nowhere, invent one's own currency, protect one's own property, and start one's own society, than it is to remove ourselves from the existing capitalist order in our society today. Our relationship to both capitalism and the state is contingent upon our decision to be a participant in today's world.
If we seek to alter the way this society works, then we must ask ourselves what it will take to move it in an anarchistic direction. The answer by now should clearly be that WE THE PEOPLE must UNITE and radicalize our cause to oppose the state and all artificial institutions, hierarchies, roots of social injustice leading to violence and aggression, and bureaucracies of organized violence which it upholds- i.e. CAPITALISM. If we merely seek to isolate ourselves from society, then we can keep expounding upon the virtues of the long-dead free market. The choice is yours.